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Author: Lucienne Diver
Damn it, this could
not be happening. I stood beside my best friend's grave, clenching my
fists and biting my lip hard enough to draw blood, choosing physical pain
over emotional. It didn't help. A cry escaped anyway. I was afraid that
right behind it would come the ranting and railing and everything I was
holding back. I wanted to demand answers. I wanted to shout down the minister
droning on about Lisa's life and hold the ceremony hostage until sanity
Suicide, they said. I knew that wasn't right.
It couldn't be. But everyone else seemed to accept it, and in a few minutes,
they'd lower Lisa into the ground like she was some hamster to be tossed
in a box and buried in the backyard. Then they'd retreat to discuss what
a shame it was that she'd died so young before getting back to their lives
and doing whatever it took to put Lisa out of their minds. And I was just
as bad, because I wasn't yelling and screaming and demanding that someone
do something to stop it.
If it would bring her back, I'd throw myself
on that coffin and make a scene fit to wake the dead. Lisa would have
loved thatme making the fuss for once. But she wasn't here
to appreciate it. Never would be again, and no amount of kicking and screaming
would change that.
A small, cold hand met mine, and I nearly
jumped out of my skin. My sister Ari, the tiny terror. I swiped at the
tears that were flowing down my face, determined to be strong for Ari,
and squeezed her fragile fingers to reassure her, falsely, that everything
Ari squeezed back. She could be sweet like
that, and the kindness only restarted the tears.
I dug a damp tissue from my skirt pocket
and did the best I could with it as the service ended. I hadn't made my
fuss, and now it was too late. I stayed, staring at the gaping hole in
the earth that had been dug for Lisa while everyone else prepared to go.
The hole was vacant now, like the other half of the heart pendant I wore
around my neck. Lisa and I had saved our allowances in the fifth grade
to buy them. Her half said Forever and mine Best Friends.
Her half lied.
She'd left me, months ago, really, cutting
me out of her life. I still didn't know why.
My mother, somber beside us, said, "I'll
be right back. I need to check with Jenny to see if she needs anything.
You girls wait here. Vanessa, watch over your sister."
Any other time, Ari would take that as a
challenge to evade me and get into as much trouble as possible. Today
as soon as Mom was out of earshot, talking with Lisa's mother, Ari tugged
on my hand. When I looked down at her little porcelain face, her eyes
were big and soulful. "You won't ever leave me, will you?" she
My heart broke. She shouldn't have to think about things like that. Not
at eight years old. Not ever.
"No, Bug, there's no getting rid of
My sister scrunched up her face at the nickname.
It was short for Pillbug, which was what I called her when she was making
my life difficult, but all she said was, "Good."
Mom came back a second later and herded
us toward the car.
"She asked us to stop for rolls on
the way," Mom said, like we were going to a cook-out instead of some
bizarre ritual where people make the dead person's family feed them and
clean up after them when all they want to do is be left alone with their
It was silent in the car on the ride over
except for the bloops and bleeps of the handheld game Ari had stashed
in the pocket of her jumper. I wanted to rip it from her hands and hurl
it against the window, but like everything else, it wouldn't do any good,
and in the end I just sat, clenching my hands to keep from lashing out
at the world. We separated almost as soon as we got inside Lisa's house.
Mom went to help Lisa's mother. Ari ran to play out back with Anna and
Amy, her friends from school. The Triple As, I called them, as in batteries
that kept going and going. I was left to wander aimlessly through the
crowd of mourners. I didn't want to talk. I especially didn't want
anything to do with the girls who stood at the buffet table, wearing classic
little black dresses that said fashion rather than funeral. Rachel and
Shelbyone spray-bottle tan and the other as pale as loose leaf paper,
both watching everything with avid eyes, as if grief was a spectator sport.
I couldn't believe they had the nerve to show up after the way they'd
treated Lisa. Worst of all, Shelby had brought her boyfriend Nate, who'd
tormented Lisa and me on the bus, along with any other girl he thought
might fall for what he thought of as his charms. Lisa had despised him
with a fiery passion. She wasn't alone.
Now he stood at the buffet scarfing shrimp
cocktail and ogling girls as they went past.
For a minute, I debated marching straight
up and ordering them all out. If this was my house, I would have, but
Mom had drilled into me from the time I was Ari's age not to make scenes.
While I didn't so much care about propriety, I did care about Miss
Jenny, Lisa's mom. I didn't want to do anything to upset her, and I didn't
know whether she'd appreciate me standing up for Lisa or whether she'd
consider it too little too late.
Like I did.
I thought back to a few months ago, when
Lisa had pushed me away with no apology or explanation, back when I'd
thought the split was temporary.
Lisa had always been the scrapper of the
two of us, never picking fights, but always ready to jump in rather than
back down. I'd been so shocked the day I saw Rachel and her crew having
a go at Lisa and her just letting it happen. . . .
Shelby and Ashley blocked the way into Language Arts, leaning against
the door jamb discussing the dreaminess of Eddie Barar's eyes and whether
or not he was hotter than Rachel's boyfriend when Lisa tried to get into
"Excuse me," Lisa said loudly.
I didn't know if it was her first attempt to get through, but it was the
first time I'd heard her from where I sat inside the classroom.
The conversation stopped . . . until Shelby started in. "Hey, goth
girl, what're you hiding under all those clothes? I hear it's a baby bump."
"Yeah right," Rachel sneered,
"like anyone would want to get with that."
As always, Ashley looked mildly embarrassed
by the whole thing, but she didn't say a word in Lisa's defense.
Fuming, I stood and walked toward them.
I saw a way that I could make it up to Lisa for whatever I'd done to upset
her and get my best friend back. I wasn't going to let the moment pass
I cleared my throat and waited for the pack
to turn on me before I spoke up. "You're one to talk, Rachel.
Whoever told you the monoboob was a good look was putting you on. Or is
that the point of a Wonderbramakes you wonder where one boob
ends and the other begins?"
She reeled back as if I'd struck her, and
I used the sudden opening to reach into the hallway and pull Lisa into
the room. "Ignore them," I said to her. "They're idiots."
"You think I don't know that?" she asked, yanking her arm out
of my hand. "Jeez, Van, I don't need you to fight my battles. I don't
need you at all, okay. Not anymore."
I was so stunned that I just stared for
a second in shock and pain.
"Well, fine," I said finally,
in a way that probably made it clear to anyone with ears that it wasn't
actually. "You want to be left alone, you've got it. I'm finished.
I stomped off to my desk and refused to
look at her the rest of the period.
last time I talked to her I'd just walked away, washed my hands of her.
I'd had no idea.
I don't need you at all . . . not anymore.
Maybe that should have told me something. What, I had no idea. It hadn't
been a cry for help . . . not any kind that I recognized. I didn't know
what it was. But maybe, if I'd been observant, if I hadn't given up on
her so easily and let her push me away with a few harsh words, maybe I
could have helped her. Maybe she'd still be alive and I wouldn't be left
with a Lisa-sized hole in my chest.
I drifted down the hallway, away from people
and pointless conversation. I passed family photos hanging on the wallsLisa
as a baby, Ramsey and Lisa as toddlers, a full family photo taken the
year before her father died. Tears welled up again, and I could barely
see the door I pushed open, the one into Lisa's room.
Someone had beaten me there. I stopped cold, blinking back the tears to
bring the brunette blur in front of me into focus.
Of all the peopleAshley Johnson.
I glared from the doorway, terribly effective
through my tears, I was sure. We were far enough away from everyone else
that here I didn't have to worry about making a scene.
"You have some nerve," I spat
at her. "Get out. Take your 'friends' with you."
Startled, she looked up from her place near
Lisa's desk, her green eyes rimmed in red. "This isn't your room,"
she answered defiantly. "You have no right to tell me what to do."
"I have every right. Unlike you, I
never stopped being Lisa's friend."
"Really?" she said, carefully
neutral about it. "Where were you when she killed herself?"
It was like an ice pick straight to the
heart, a shock to my system. My knees wanted to buckle under me, but I
forced myself to stay upright, to face her down. My anger at Ashley was
the first clear cut, non-conflicted thing I'd felt since the news of Lisa's
death. It felt good, burning up my other emotions like a wildfire. But
it was too quickly extinguished by the direct hit of her question. Where
were you. . . .
"Ouch," I whispered. It slipped
out. I hadn't meant to give her the satisfaction.
We were both silent for a minute. I looked
away to gather myself, and was stunned by how much Lisa's room had changed.
The boy band posters she'd had on her walls had all been ripped down and
nothing else put up to take their places. The big mirror always half obscured
by the mass of pictures tucked into the frame was now covered over by
a dark sheet. Her bookshelves were still lined with books, but the stuffed
animals were all gone except for Mr. Bojangles, her bear, who'd been turned
to face the wall as if he was in a time out. He belonged on her bed. The
thought that she'd turned even him away was devastating.
"Do you remember the summer we practically
lived at the lake?" Ashley asked out of nowhere. She twitched aside
the black sheet hiding Lisa's mirror, and a picture fluttered to the floor.
She let the sheet fall back into place as she bent to pick up the photo
and stood again, seemingly transfixed by the image. A tear slid silently
down her cheek, and she handed the picture to me.
It would have been a movie moment if it
was a shot of the three of us from that summer when we were thirteen.
Probably the best summer I could remember. We'd been inseparable that
year. Our moms took turns driving us out to the local lake, the shore
of which had been seeded with sand to give it a beachy feel. They'd let
us run off on our own, confident in our strength in numbers. We splashed
and chased and told each other secrets. We ate popsicles and hotdogs and
fries without worrying that they'd go to our hips. We were as brown as
chestnuts by the time we were through, though Ashley, who'd started with
a natural golden glow, ended lighter than Lisa and me. She was a fanatic
with the sunscreen, even then worrying about her complexion.
Then eighth grade happened. Boobs and boys
and Ashley trying so hard to leave childish things behind. Like us. She
got obsessed with mature things like Steve Ferrier, who became
obsessed with her right back . . . temporarily . . . and she moved into
his clique. At first she still hung out with us occasionally, when nothing
better was going on, but once it became clear her new friends found that
uncool, she bowed to pressure. Eventually, Steve had moved on. Ashley
got Rachel and Shelby in the breakup.
But the picture wasn't of the three of us.
It was Lisa with Carter Reece from last year's class trip to Busch Gardens.
I knew because I'd taken it and because of the huge rollercoaster rising
in the background. They were mugging for the camera, her blue eyes lit
like she didn't have a care in the world, her blond hair shining in the
sun, and beside her, a golden boy with chocolate brown eyes and a single
dimple on his right cheek. Happy. Smiling. No indication of what was to
come. I pressed my lips together hard to keep from crying.
"I remember," I told Ashley, focusing
back on that summer at the lake. The present was too painful. "I
. . . miss that."
"Me too," she answered, darting
a glance at me.
We shared a moment. Just one before all
the hurt and betrayal came crashing back in. All the times she'd turned
her back on us or stayed silent when her friends tore us down.
She saw it in my eyes. "I should go,"
she said. "You probably want to be alone."
A million responses flitted through my head,
but in the end, I just said, "Yes."
I backed out of the doorway to let her pass and freaked when I bumped
into someone who used the excuse to trap me in a bear hug. He smelled
of failing deodorant and the sickly sweet scent of weed.
"Where're you going, Goldilocks?"
I squirmed out of his grip and turned to
glare, catching sight of the boy with himLisa's brother Ramsey,
who'd just let his friend manhandle me.
He was tall and dark, dressed all in black,
but not looking particularly funereal. With the hoodie and jeans, he looked
more like he might be meeting his friends at the 7-Eleven for smokes.
He hadn't even bothered to shave for his sister's funeral . . . or else
he regularly had a five o'clock shadow by noon. He very well might. Lisa's
life had been so separate from her brother's that for all the time I'd
spent here, I didn't know him very well. He'd grown from a sullen boy
who preferred video games to real-world interaction, particularly with
us giggly girls, into a rebellious teenager. His friend looked like Sonic
the Hedgehogblue hair bristling all around his head, dark brow pierced
with a stud that came to an arrow point. In a word, prickly.
"What are you two girls doing back
here in Lisa's bedroom . . . alone?" Ramsey asked us, his voice somehow
rough and slick at the same time. Like snakeskin.
Ashley seemed frozen in place. I wanted
to spit at the insinuation in Ramsey's voice. But rather than look away
and let him think he intimidated meeven if he didI continued
to glare. It was dark in the back hallway, but not so dark that his eyes
should be that dilated.
"Are you high?" I asked suddenly.
"At your sister's funeral?"
Ramsey shared a look with his friend. I
struggled to remember his nameTrick, that was it. Short for
Patrick. It was hard to tell where Trick's brown eyes left off and his
pupils began. He and Ramsey smiled together over my reaction, totally
creeping me out. Maybe some people handled grief differently? Maybe it
was their way of coping with the horror?
"Jealous?" Ramsey asked.
"Want some?" Trick added. "It'll
Ashley broke out of her paralysis. "I'm
out of here," she said with a huff, pushing past me and forcing the
boys back into the hallway. "You kids play nice," she tossed
back over her shoulder, deserting me.
One look at the boys flanking me and I took
off in her wake, more concerned with getting away than my show of bravado.
I felt like I was leaving things unfinished.
I didn't know what I'd hoped to find in Lisa's roomsome sign of
who she'd become and what had made her drive me away and do what she'd
done. Or maybe some kind of closure, a private moment to say good-bye
where I'd feel her presence most strongly. But it was clear I wasn't going
to get either privacy or peace right then.
A sudden shriek in my sister's voice had
me running for the dining room, my pulse pounding. I nearly crashed into
Nate, who was coming the opposite way down the hall, but I managed to
swerve around him at the last second, ignoring his call of, "Hey,
where's the fire?"
Even so, by the time I reached the buffet,
Ari had gotten hold of herself . . . along with a piece of ice she'd dug
out from inside her shirt. From the innocent look on her friend Anna's
face, I could tell who'd put it there. A good-natured battle ensued, which
threatened to topple the buffet table, and Lisa's mom shoed the kids back
Miss Jennywhat I'd called Lisa's mom
ever since her daughter and I had first metlooked wistfully after
them, tears silently running down her face. She's seeing Lisa and me
at that age, I thought.
My feet carried me in her direction, and
I had a panic attack as I got closer. I had no idea what I planned to
say. Would she blame me like I blamed myself?
"Miss Jenny, I-" my voice
broke, and I looked away, out toward where my sister had escaped, wishing
I'd done the same. "I'm so sorry. I should have"
Lisa's mom enfolded me in a hug, so different
than Trick's. Comforting rather than confining. She cried quietly into
my hair, and I did the same all over the front of her dress.
"There was nothing you could have done,"
Miss Jenny said through her tears. "Nothing any of us could have
done. We didn't know. She never said"
Miss Jenny couldn't finish either. I wondered
if her words sounded as hollow to her as mine did to me.
"I wish I had known," I
whispered. "I wish I'd done something."
She pulled back, smoothing down my hair
as she went, like I'd seen her do with Lisa a million times in the past.
"I'm sorry. I've gotten your hair all mussed."
"Don't worry about it," I said.
"Really. Is there . . . anything I can do?"
"You're so like your mother,"
she said, as if that answered the question. "Maybe,
in a few days, you can come by and choose something from Lisa's room.
Something to remember her by. I think she'd like that. She always thought
so much of you. I don't know why you and she . . ." She trailed off,
and we both let it lie there awkwardly. It was so hard, not knowing. Along
with the pain, it was eating me alive.
A man came up then and put a hand to Miss
Jenny's back. I instantly bristled, even though I didn't know why. Her
husband, Lisa's father, had died a year ago. She had every right to move
"We're running out of plates and napkins,"
he said, standing too close. Well, not if they were dating, I guessed.
It was just weird to see him there at Miss Jenny's side. I knew only three
things about him: his name was Dave, he was too young for Miss Jennyso
said Lisa back when we were speakingand the relationship had happened
too quickly, only months after Mr. MacKenzie had died. Not that Miss Jenny
had brought him around right away to meet the kids. At first she only
seemed to be working a lot of late nights. "I had a look in the pantry,
but I couldn't find any more."
"I'll take care of it," Miss Jenny
said with an apologetic look to me. "I'm so sorry Vanessa. I'll be
Dave didn't go with her, but stood looking
at me, his face set in lines of sadness. "Lisa was your friend?"
he asked. Like that wasn't self-explanatory by my very presence. But then,
with Nate, Rachel, and Shelby in the house, maybe it wasn't.
I just nodded, not really able to speak.
He wasn't that young, I thought, studying him. Maybe seven or eight
years younger than Miss Jenny. I was a terrible judge of these things.
But he was attractive in that office stud kind of way. Or maybe that was
the suit speaking. His hair was still all dark without a spot of gray
that I could see, unlike his eyes, which were the color of a stormcloud
"I've got to go," I said, too
abruptly. Lisa hadn't liked him. I was betraying her memory even talking
to him, and I wasn't about to share my grief. Anyway, it suddenly felt
too big. I needed to get away not only from Dave but from everyone. I
didn't need witnesses to my breakdown.
I went without waiting for his response
and found my mother in the living room talking to some of the other neighborhood
ladies. They stopped chatting at my approach.
"Van, what's wrong?" Mom asked
at the look on my face. Like anything was right.
"I've got to go," I repeated for
her. "I need to be alone for awhile."
My voice broke on the last word, and I reached
for the now soggy bundle of tissues in my pocket. I should have brought
"Want me to walk you home?" she
"Half a block? No. I'll manage. You
stay. You want me to take Ari with me?"
Her gaze shot over my shoulder, to the window
through which she could see the younger kids playing tag as if this was
simply a play date. "She's fine for now," Mom answered.
I nodded to the others and made my escape.
Past the mean girls, now including Ashley, who'd migrated to the window
seat in the living room, past teammates and other kids from the neighborhood,
and past Carter Reece, sitting all alone on a loveseat, toying with a
slice of white-icinged cake. I snuck a glance at him as I went past. He
was hard to look at in the best of timeslike staring at the sun.
I wasn't a poetic person. I didn't think like that, but it was trueso
beautiful you'd risk the pain, but not for long. It just hurt too much,
especially knowing he was Lisa's . . . had been Lisa's. They'd
been close once, like dating-any-day-now close. But she'd pushed him away
like she had me.
I could feel his pain reaching out, a twin
to my own, and when he sensed my scrutiny and looked up, his eyes were
hollow and haunted like mine. I tried to reassure him with a smile that
life would go on, like I'd tried to comfort Ari with the hand squeeze,
but I knew I wasn't convincing.
He rose, as if he might speak to me, but
it was more than I could take right then. I made my escape, but I felt
him watching me all the way out the door. Outside, I tried to let the
sun chase away my shadows, but it had gone behind a cloud, and the world
had become a much darker place.
©2016 Lucienne Diver